It’s not often you encounter a board game that’s hard to compare to anything else you’ve played. Kabuto Sumo is one of those games. At its simplest, this beetle sumo wrestling game is all about shoving pieces out of an arena, but those appearances can be deceiving. The game is exciting and unpredictable in just the way you’d want a wrestling match to be, and we had a fantastic time playing it with our special guest Petrana Radulovic on our latest episode of Overboard.
In a match of Kabuto Sumo, players attempt to shove their opponent’s wrestling piece out of the arena, either on their own or as a team of two. They do that by pushing pieces (in small, medium, or large varieties) into a crowded board of discs and beetles. This typically causes one or more pieces to be bumped out of the arena. If it’s a player’s beetle piece, they get knocked out, and their opponent wins! But more likely, they’ll just push out a couple of regular pieces, which get added to that player’s supply for future turns.
The closest comparisons we could think of to this “disc pushing” gameplay wasn’t even a board game. Rather, it was those coin pushing games you see at bowling alley arcades and Chuck E. Cheese locations.
While these “games” are very different from Kabuto Sumo, they do share one thing in common: They both trick you into thinking that pushing discs in a straight line will be easy.
As it turns out, when you push two to three discs in a row, they’re liable to move in all sorts of unpredictable directions. But it pays off just often enough that it can be worth the risk if you can, say, shove a particularly desirable piece (or maybe even an opponent) out of the ring from clear across the arena. That means that on every turn, you (and your teammate) will have to decide if you want to play it safe or go for broke. These sorts of high-risk, high-reward decisions are what make the game feel like an exciting bout of wrestling — even if all you’re doing is pushing little discs.
Adding further color and chaos are the wrestlers themselves. At the start of a Kabuto Sumo match, each player gets to pick a wrestler with two signature moves. One of these moves adds a tactical wrinkle to your play style. Maybe you steal pieces from an opponent that touches your wrestling piece, or you get an extra turn when you’re on the edge of the arena.
The other signature move typically gives you access to your special piece, which you can push into the arena instead of a regular piece. These signature pieces can be incredibly useful, but you usually have to pay a couple of pieces just to get them.